There seems to be very little to be found about Florida duo Hear Hums, except references to hypnotism, experimentation and a new kind of psychedelia. Listening to their latest release, 2014’s Malaise, you realize that you don’t even want to know more about them. Mitch Meyers and Kenzie Cooke hide so well behind the landscapes they create, that you tend to forget that there are actual people doing this to you.
Malaise has a very narrative development, while at the same time creating fascinating stills within each song. Even without being excessively long, the songs have a perfect sense of development, of evolution, with each section flowing or tumbling into the next. They always manage a slow build and an equally patient dissolution within a very short time span. And with such lo-fi records, it’s very rare to have such smooth edges and transitions, while still keeping the closeness of the aesthetic.
Mainly, Malaise is about pain. But rather than trying to dampen or diffuse it by means of analogy, confession or anger, Hear Hums map it out, creating a sort of space where sickness and exhaustion rule. Most of the songs start with the slow trickle of water and the creaking of wood, and develop in an ambiental way mixing field recorded textures, all sorts of drums, toms and tiny percussion elements with droning sharp strings and hazy vocals. Most pieces have some sort of rhythm somewhere in the back of their minds, but they generally allow you to move at your own pace in the murky terrain they bring about. The walls are always damp, radio static interferes with distorted cries of pain, reptiles and insects crawl and swarm in the dark corners and it almost never gets better. The opener Veil immediately places you in the cold and the wet, and Rot Child, the next song only goes further. The percussion pulls you deeper and deeper while the two accordion lines interact, not for the sake of melody, but rather as a struggle for breath. Void and Hiding Place shake off some of the murkiness from before, offering small moments of relief before diving back in.
The whole travel-through-your-own-sickness development of the album could get pretty tiring without any sort of hope or even slight chance of escape. Hear Hums very ingeniously give the album the slightest touch of hope by hinting at an effect of initiation such an experience might have. And this is very subtly done by tinting the percussive elements with an ethnic vibe, now and again bringing a ritualistic feel among the shadowy textures and sticky walls. “All of this will turn itself inside out and make you someone new” but only in short bursts before opening another door, another room, another episode of illness. At the end, the album turns optimistic, or at least hopeful, but in a cheap way, with some of the only discernible lyrics of the album being the “reach out”, “don’t give up” parts in the final song which put a very blatant twist of hope on the previously subtle development of the album. It’s sad to see such a rookie mistake right at the end, but with a little tolerance on our part, Malaise remains a great ambient record with a surprising interplay between movement and stillness.